Family members working together with doctors can use home treatment to provide the best possible care for a child with cerebral palsy (CP).
Tips for parents and family members
- Learn about the condition. Being informed can help you understand how best to help your child. Local or national cerebral palsy organizations can help, especially in dealing with the impact of daily emotional and lifestyle issues. Talk with your doctor or call your local hospital for suggestions. For more information, see the Other Places to Get Help section of this topic.
- Learn about your child's educational rights. Laws in the United States give children with special needs access to free public school services and some free treatments. These educational rights also include protection of the parents' rights to be fully informed about or disagree with educational decisions concerning their child. Contact your state and local education departments for specific information about these accommodations. Also, vocational training may benefit some teens and young adults.
- Work with teachers and school officials. Work with your child's teachers, school administrators, special learning consultants, and school boards to develop the best educational plan for your child. A cooperative team approach helps your child realize his or her potential.
- Provide emotional support. The needs of a child with CP change over time. As children grow and become more aware of their physical limitations, they need to be able to talk about their feelings and how they are treated. It is sometimes easier for them to talk with someone who isn't a family member. Ask your doctor about whether emotional counseling would benefit your child. Also, include your child when making decisions about his or her health care.
- Take care of yourself. Get proper rest, eat well, exercise, and learn ways to cope with the challenges of raising a child with CP. You will be better equipped to help your child when you have physical energy and emotional strength.
- Help each other. The entire family is affected when one member has CP. Helping family members cope with this situation is important, especially for siblings. You can help prevent other children from having unrealistic fears and concerns, feeling left out, or becoming overwhelmed.
You and your family and friends can help your child reach his or her highest potential. Focus on your child's strengths. And build self-esteem by helping your child learn to do things by himself or herself.
Helping with daily routines
Each person with CP has unique strengths and areas of difficulty. But most people who have CP need ongoing help with:
- Using the toilet. Some people who have CP have poor bladder control or problems that make using a toilet difficult. Special undergarments and training by an occupational therapist may help.
- Bowel elimination. People who have CP often become constipated, making stools difficult to pass. For information about preventing and treating constipation, see the topic Constipation, Age 11 and Younger or Constipation, Age 12 and Older.
- Dressing. Provide clothing and shoes that are easy to put on and take off, such as those that zip or button in the front or that have large buttons, ties, or Velcro fasteners.
- Speaking. Problems with jaw and mouth muscles, and also hearing loss, can make it difficult to form words. Speaking slowly and reading with your child often are examples of ways to help your child communicate.
- Keeping active. Your child needs to move his or her limbs to help keep muscles strong and joints flexible. Have him or her move and play as much as possible. Involve other family members too. Ask the doctor, physical therapist, or other parents for ideas.
- Safety. People who have CP are prone to falls and other accidents, especially if they have seizures. You can take safety measures at home-such as having sturdy furniture-to help your child avoid accidents. Use common sense and care around sharp objects. And never leave a person who has CP alone while he or she is bathing.
Feeding and grooming
- Feeding and eating. Children with CP may have problems being able to chew, suck, and swallow. Using special utensils and serving soft foods may help. A registered dietitian can suggest ways to help your child eat healthy foods and make food easier to chew and swallow. A person with severe CP may need a feeding tube in order to eat.
- Bathing and grooming. People who have CP who do not have control of their hands or arms usually cannot groom themselves. Some children can be taught some self-grooming with practice.
Dental and skin care
- Dental care. CP can cause problems with the jaw muscles, teeth, mouth, and tongue. And it can make it hard to use a toothbrush. Regular cleanings and special equipment, such as a teeth-cleaning water spray, can help.
- Skin care. Drooling can cause skin irritation around the chin, mouth, and chest. You can help protect your child's skin by blotting rather than wiping drool, using cloths to cover the chest, and applying lotions or cornstarch to areas that get irritated.
As your child approaches the teen years and young adulthood, be aware of his or her changing needs.
- Give teens and adults with CP plenty of emotional support and understanding. Family members and friends can help them deal with the daily challenges of having CP.
- Gradually prepare your child for independent living. Usually teens have learned to use their talents and strengths. But they may need extra help and encouragement to prepare for added expectations and responsibilities.
- Talk to your teen about intimate relationships. Teens and young adults with CP may need more guidance than other people their age in developing these relationships.
Learn to change your routines as your child with CP grows and develops. For example, you may not be able to continue caring for a severely affected child who is growing tall and heavy. Try to plan ahead for the time when your grown child with CP is not under your care.
Planning for adulthood
Preparing your child for adulthood takes careful planning. It also requires patience and resourcefulness on your part.
- Encourage independent living skills. A time may come when you or other family members can no longer assist your child in all areas.
- Plan for an adult's current and future health care needs. Complications of cerebral palsy may develop and affect quality of life. Also, some forms of CP are more severe and require special assistance.
- Use occupational therapy and similar programs that may be helpful. Most adults with CP are employed, despite moderate to severe physical disability. Laws protect the rights of disabled people to find and hold employment (among other rights). Learn about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 at www.ada.gov.
Older adults with CP may need extra help preparing for retirement.